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Iowa LB recruit Jaden Harrell talks Hawkeyes, junior year. Matthew Bain, mbain@dmreg.com

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URBANDALE, Ia. — For Jaden Harrell, everything happened fast.

He played freshman football in his first year at Urbandale. Then ... he hit a growth spurt. He bulked up to 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds and started on varsity as a sophomore.

Then ... he racked up a team-best 67.5 tackles and eight solo tackles for loss.

Then ... colleges started calling. Iowa, Iowa State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Kansas State wanted to learn more about the central Iowa sophomore.

Then ... in February, during his first visit to Iowa City, Kirk Ferentz invited him into his office to extend Harrell his first college football scholarship.

"Really, no words, honestly," Harrell told the Register, remembering the moment.

Harrell blossomed from a relative unknown to a Hawkeye target in a span of six months. Over the next four months, he would visit Iowa State, Kansas State, Notre Dame and Nebraska, and he added an offer from Nebraska.

But none of that changed what was in his heart. A lifelong Iowa fan, Harrell became Iowa's third 2021 recruit during a visit to campus in late July.

Now, with his recruitment closed before his junior season, Harrell can focus exclusively on improving on the high school football field. He is expected to be one of the top defenders in a state that knows how to produce high-level linebackers.

And with his size, skill set and the early Power 5 stamp of approval, Harrell has the building blocks of a formidable Big Ten linebacker.

"I think he definitely has a chance for that," Urbandale head coach Sam Anderson said. "We’ve had some good ones, and he’s got a chance to be pretty special. He’s still kind of a pup and he’s going to grow.

"He’s got that combination of athleticism, size and speed. He’s just a complete package. He’s athletic. He’s a kid that’s played basketball, he’s done baseball, he’s done a lot of things and he’s been good at everything throughout his career."

Beyond his strength and speed, Anderson said Harrell's vision is advanced. He also plays running back for the J-Hawks. His experience on the other side of the ball allows him to read plays faster and anticipate what will come next.

It's that type of anticipation — that ability to know what's going to happen before it does — that has set apart some recent Iowa linebacker greats.

Cedar Falls' Jack Campbell, now at Iowa, was at the heart of seemingly every play in high school. It wasn't uncommon to see him with more than 20 tackles in a game.

Cedar Rapids Washington's O'Rien Vance, now at Iowa State, was similar. He would routinely blow up plays before they ever happened.

"He knows the position," Anderson said of Harrell. "There are some times when people make a play and you’re like, 'Whoa.' When you get that whoa factor, it’s impressive to watch."

Anderson remembers another Urbandale player with the same kind of whoa factor — Allen Lazard, who was a four-star, top-100 prospect in the class of 2014.

Although the two play different positions, Anderson said Harrell and Lazard share similar mental and emotional qualities — their humility, their ability to never get too high or too low and their eagerness to be a great teammate.

Harrell remembers watching Lazard at Urbandale. Before driving two hours to Kinnick Stadium Saturday mornings, Harrell and his family would spend their Friday nights watching the J-Hawks.

Home or away. It didn't matter.

You could immediately tell how special Lazard was, Harrell said. The way he towered over everybody. The way he outworked everybody. Thanks to a mutual friend, Harrell talked with Lazard every now and then throughout elementary school.

"Just to work hard and just keep going, do what you can do," Harrell said of what he learned from Lazard. "Change the game."

As his team prepares for its season opener Aug. 30 at Johnston, Harrell thinks back to his days watching Lazard dominate those Friday nights. He so looked up to the former Iowa State receiver. He was almost mythical, larger than life to Urbandale kids.

Now, Harrell has kids looking up to him.

Now, he's the Power 5-bound J-Hawk.

Now, it's his turn to lead the hometown team.

"I’m almost like Allen now," Harrell said, smiling.

Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Iowa/Iowa State athletics and Drake basketball for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at mbain@dmreg.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.

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